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What is specificity?

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

Specificity! What are we talking about when we talk about specificity and your running training? Training specificity suggests that training must progress from least specific to most specific as an athlete moves closer towards an event. In exercise physiology terms, the SAID principle stands for 'specific adaptations to imposed demands'. Put simply, specificity suggests that your training must resemble the activity you wish to perform and in doing so, your body adapts to the stress that is placed on it. So, if you're training for a running event and you're running, you're halfway there!

Let's look deeper into the principle of specificity and how we can apply it to your training.

What are the demands of the terrain?

Take the time to sit down and establish the demands of your upcoming race and make a plan to address these demands in your training. Does your race have long climbs? Is your race fast and on non-technical terrain? At the 2015 Tarawera Ultra Marathon, race winner Dylan Bowman spoke at the post-race presentation about how he had structured his long runs around the demands of the course. He acknowledged that the course that year featured a flat and fast finish, so he emulated a flat and fast finish in his training runs. On the opposite end of the scale, don't neglect hiking if your race is mountainous or you plan on hiking portions of your event. 

Spending time training on the course is a great way to familiarise yourself with the terrain and to dial in other elements of racing like nutrition, hydration, and gear. If you can't train on the course in the lead-up, look to train somewhere that emulates the characteristics of the race terrain.

Training for a mountain race in a flat city? Repetitions are key!

What are the physiological demands of your race? 

How much of your race will be spent hiking, running easily, running moderately hard and running all out? Your training should aim to develop the systems you will use on race day, progressing from least specific to most specific as you move through your training cycles. Once you've established your physiological priorities you should be addressing these within training blocks in conjunction with other exercise principles of progression, overload, recovery, adaptation, and individual differences.

As mentioned above, training on the course is a great way to familiarise yourself with the terrain. Take this a step further and plan workouts on the course. Come race day you can physically and psychologically draw on all the hard specific workouts you've put in on the toughest sections of the course. 

Lactate threshold workout on trail. Purpose: physiologically and psychologically preparing for a fast finish during a race.

What are the environmental demands of your race?

Will it be hot on race day? Is your race at altitude? Will you be running at night or during the middle of the day? Addressing these demands during training will ensure you're adequately prepared. It is important to also consider gear and other equipment during training, to avoid any surprises on race day. Don't limit yourself to the mandatory gear list either, if you think you would benefit from having additional gear to be safe and comfortable then take the additional gear. 

What day of the week is your race on?

Planning your long runs on the same day as the race allows you to reach the start line comfortable and in a familiar environment. If you're used to a 5 am start every Saturday then waking up on race morning won't feel so foreign. Never underestimate the power of the mind on race day. If your race is multi-day, running back to back days in training is a great way to simulate the physical and psychological demands of backing up.

Are you strength training? 

Your strength programming should be addressing the biomechanics of the gait cycle and developing the movement patterns responsible for creating strong, injury-free running. Think about why you're doing a specific exercise and what you hope to achieve incorporating the exercise into your program. Building strength training into easy run days is a great place to start, as well as cutting a run 5 or 10 minutes short and doing some prehab work. 

Strength training forms an integral part of building and maintaining strength, power and endurance.

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